I have only thrown one pot in my life, a rather lumpy green affair, but nonetheless, it holds pride of place on a shelf, testament to a liberal schooling system and limitless enthusiasm. This morning i was listening to an interview with Edmund de Waal, a writer and much in demand potter, whose works are displayed in galleries around the world. He was describing his life journey, how he learned to throw pots and how he eventually discovered his own unique style. A lot of what he said centred around ‘touch’, what he considered a neglected language.
My own memories of learning to throw that pot are visceral too: i can remember the feel of the clay, it’s coldness, the resistance as the wheel turned (and the way it took me several ‘throws’ to get the thing in the centre). Ceramics are inherently tactile, from smooth porcelains to gritty earthenware, we experience them as much through feel as through sight.
I’ve touched upon pottery before on the blog, thinking about narration of learning and looking at how communities form around distinct practices. Interestingly, potters often follow apprenticeships that take them around the world to reside for a while in japanese or european workshops, they’re a great example of global learning communities.
De Waal focussed upon the nature of touch: reflecting how, in a museum or gallery setting, people are often not able to touch the ceramics, somehow missing out on part of the experience, providing just a second hand, watered down version of the meaning of the thing. Touch is really just another word for playing and playing with things is a great way to learn: it’s the first way that we learn when we are born, by touching, poking and licking things!
We should keep in mind the importance of touch as a way of making experience more powerful, as a way of building stronger associations in memory.